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American Journalism Review on perils of Internet ratings
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 30 Sep 1997 14:05:04 -0700 (PDT)
From: Declan McCullagh <[email protected]>
To: [email protected]
Subject: American Journalism Review on perils of Internet ratings
The Clinton administration and the Internet industry
have championed voluntary ratings for Web sites to
create a ``family-friendly'' environment in cyberspace.
Their campaign nearly led online news organizations to
create a licensing system for Web journalism.
By J.D. Lasica
From AJR, October 1997
WHEN PRESIDENT CLINTON challenged the high-tech industry
this summer to create a ``family-friendly Internet'' by
cyber-smut and other offensive content, newspaper editorials
applauded the president's decision to forgo government
regulation and let private industry police the Net.
Few realized that the White House's ``parental empowerment
initiative'' would plunge online news publications headlong
the thorniest thicket of free speech issues in the history of
cyberspace--and lead to the news media's rejection of the
president's proposal when it comes to their own Web sites.
The fate of an Internet self-rating system, however,
far from settled. And the online news media's actions in recent
weeks have been riddled with more intrigue than a John Le Carr*
thriller--with the final chapters still unwritten.
Consider the questions the online news world took up after
the president's call for an Internet ratings system: How would
Web news sites rate themselves for violence, language and
frankness when publishing stories involving war, murder, rape,
gang shootings, domestic abuse, hate crimes and teenage
If an exception is carved out for news sites, which
qualify? Where do you draw the line between news and
information, entertainment, propaganda and opinion? And who
If news sites refuse to rate themselves, will they be
from a growing number of parents and others who are
demanding filters on their Web browsers?
Finally, will the entire ratings scheme transform the
a global democratic village into a balkanized, regulated medium
where foreign despots can easily censor any material that
from the party line?
Questions like these are now being vigorously debated by
online journalists who've barely had time to catch their breath
after the U.S. Supreme Court slapped down the Communications
Decency Act in June.
The Clinton administration has adopted the approach
championed by the Internet industry, which fears another effort
by Congress to clamp down on ``indecent material'' in
cyberspace. At the July 16 Internet summit at the White House,
the president called on such companies as Netscape, America
Online and IBM to give parents the tools needed to shield
children from obscenity, violence and antisocial messages
``We need to encourage every Internet site, whether or
has material harmful to minors, to rate its contentsÉto help
ensure that our children do not end up in the red-light
of cyberspace,'' Clinton said.
The assembled captains of industry obliged. Netscape
indicated it would support Internet ratings in its next
meaning that about 97 percent of all browsers will support
Internet ratings. (Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3.0 already
includes ratings as an option for parents to turn on.) The
engines Lycos, Excite and Yahoo! also fell into line,
ask for ratings labels for all Web sites in their directories.